Monday, May 14, 2018

Reducing Job Strain May Reduce Mental Health Risks in Midlife

Exposure to high job strain—a combination of high job demands (such as work pace and intensity) and low job control (such as one’s ability to make work-related decisions)—in midlife may increase the risk of mental health problems, according to a study in Lancet Psychiatry.

While previous studies have suggested an association between job strain and mental illness, this study provides some of the first evidence of causality on the part of the workplace.

For the study, Samuel Harvey, Ph.D., of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, analyzed data from the National Child Development Study—a large United Kingdom study that periodically surveyed over 17,000 people born between March 3, 1958, and March 9, 1958, over a 50-year period—to investigate the prospective association between job strain variables at age 45 and risk of common mental health disorders (depression and/or anxiety) at age 50.

The analysis focused on 6,870 participants who completed their surveys at age 45 and had a full- or part-time job, had not recently switched jobs, and had no depressive symptoms in the past 30 days. In this group, 2,212 individuals reported low job control, 1,737 reported high job demands, and 1,768 reported high job strain (having elevated scores in both job control and job demand).

At the 50 year survey, 10% of all participants reported new symptoms of depression and/or anxiety (measured with the psychological subscale of the Malaise Inventory). After adjusting for numerous potential contributing factors, including prior psychiatric history, Harvey and colleagues found that workers with high job demands had 1.70 times the odds of developing symptoms of depression and/or anxiety at age 50; workers with low job control had 1.89 times the odds; and workers with high job strain had 2.22 times the odds.

Further analysis suggested that if workplaces could have identified and reduced all 1,768 cases of job strain, the emergence of new mental disorders would have been reduced by 14%.

The study highlights “the potential public health effect of addressing job strain factors in the workplace,” the authors concluded. “Previous research on interventions aimed at increasing employee control or improving job design has shown some promise in the promotion of mental health and reduction of stress in the workplace.”

To read more about this topic, see the Psychiatric News article “Rebirth of APAF’s Center for Workplace Mental Health,” by APA Past President Anita Everett, M.D.



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